The Second Catastophe

“Does being a Jew only mean being a victim, defined by the actions of others?”

In 2003 Howard Rotberg wrote The Second Catastrophe, A Novel about a Book and its Author. The events in the “book” within the novel take place in 2001. Rotberg was then already warning us about the rise of the new anti-semitism: Anti- Jewish and anti-Israel and asked,

“Will America sacrifice Israel’s Jews to their financial interests in the Arab world…Will the Arab world be impressed by American strength or encouraged by American weakness?”

This book, written by a Canadian author, was at one time banned in Chapters, a large Canadian book chain. The banning was life imitating art.

It was Rotberg’s reference to the actions of the well-intentioned Jewish community that touched me the most. The Jewish people are a cacophony of voices:in Israel and the diaspora.We all know the jokes: two Jews, three opinions; desert island, two Jews, three synagogues. So I understand fully that we all don’t share the same views. But we seem to refuse to learn from the past that stifling different voices is against our best interests; and that could lead to the second catastrophe.

Aristotle wrote,”Memory is the scribe of the soul.” Jewish memory is inscribed with “Never Again, Never Forget,” in our collective soul.

But we are forgetting this memory.

Rotberg wrote:

 “And so we learn, in our historical research, some rather unpleasant truths. From Chaim Weizman in England to Rabbi Wise in the United State, the Jewish ‘establishment’ seemed more threatened by the unauthorized plans of the Irgun and fears of how the established Jewish organizations would be perceived by their governments, than by the massacre of millions of European Jews.”

Vic Rosenthal recently expressed the same views in the Jewish

“Wise did his best in the tradition of the medieval ghetto community leader who protects his people by virtue of his relationship with the goyische prince, but he failed utterly. And then he did his best to sabotage the more aggressive, public efforts of Kook. His publicly stated reason was that he feared that Kook’s actions (which included criticism of Christians who did not intervene) would stimulate an antisemitic reaction in the US.”

Then, according to Rosenthal, Wise did his best to sabotage the more aggressive, public efforts of the Bergson group led by Hillel Kook, “a charismatic Irgun leader” who adopted the pseudonym Peter H. Bergson. Rabbi Wise feared the “in your face” actions by writer Ben Hecht and Rabbi Kook would make the establishment uncomfortable.

Sadly, that same sentiment is used today to keep disparate voices off sites which are financially supported by the multi-opinionated members of our Jewish communities. I have learned this from personal experience. I have been banned from writing on the blog
“The Exchange” from the Centre for Jewish and Israel Affairs, and then coincidentally, I was banned from the Jewish Tribune-shortly after being invited to contribute.  I believe in God. I don’t believe in coincidence.

Rosenthal has written about the situation in the USA. He fears we are again facing liberal Jewish organizations who are pandering to the party in power in America. A repeat of actions taken in the 1940’s when, “out of loyalty to a liberal president and his party, it worked against the true interests of the Jewish people.”

Rosenthal opines that part of the blame for the Roosevelt administration’s lack of response to the calls from the Jews in Europe must fall on the actions of American Jewry “which was sharply divided about how to respond.”

Not much has changed.

Like Rotberg and Rosenthal, I fear we are falling into a trap of muzzling too many Jewish voices for fear of upsetting others, Jews and non-Jews alike, or inciting a negative response to Israel. Instead of learning from the past that there are many ways to confront today’s anti-Semitism and Anti-Zionism, promulgated by a new level of tolerance to behaviours that undermine our own culture, we have unelected leaders in Jewish organizations with grandiose infantile delusion of entitlement and self-importance making decisions with which many of us disagree.  There are many advocacy organizations whose voices need to be heard but are kept out of the Jewish media limelight.

This is antithetical to our teachings. Talmud teaches the need for many voices. The Gemara takes us on a journey of debates through the centuries, deconstructing the smallest detail-pilpul. In the Talmud we are given the majority as well as the minority view to examine. Some of the comments may cause discomfort-but so be it, as we are a people judged by our actions, not our feelings.

Censorship is dangerous as it opens the door for questioning the opinions that appear in print.  We are left asking who was muzzled? And why? Are the opinions expressed in the major Jewish papers in each of our communities representative of the community? More importantly, how will we know?

About the Author
Diane Weber Bederman is a multi-faith, hospital trained chaplain who lives in Ontario, Canada, just outside Toronto; She has a background in science and the humanities and writes about religion in the public square and mental illness on her blog: The Middle Ground:The Agora of the 21st Century. She is a regular contributor to Convivium: Faith in our Community. "